Tag Archives: Mesh networking

( JOSEPH BONICIOLI mostly uses the same internet you and I do. He pays a service provider a monthly fee to get him online. But to talk to his friends and neighbors in Athens, Greece, he’s also got something much weirder and more interesting: a private, parallel internet.

He and his fellow Athenians built it. They did so by linking up a set of rooftop wifi antennas to create a “mesh,” a sort of bucket brigade that can pass along data and signals. It’s actually faster than the Net we pay for: Data travels through the mesh at no less than 14 megabits a second, and up to 150 Mbs a second, about 30 times faster than the commercial pipeline I get at home. Bonicioli and the others can send messages, video chat, and trade huge files without ever appearing on the regular internet. And it’s a pretty big group of people: Their Athens Wireless Metropolitan Network has more than 1,000 members, from Athens proper to nearby islands. Anyone can join for free by installing some equipment. “It’s like a whole other web,” Bonicioli told me recently. “It’s our network, but it’s also a playground.”

Indeed, the mesh has become a major social hub. There are blogs, discussion forums, a Craigslist knockoff; they’ve held movie nights where one member streams a flick and hundreds tune in to watch. There’s so much local culture that they even programmed their own mini-Google to help meshers find stuff. “It changes attitudes,” Bonicioli says. “People start sharing a lot. They start getting to know someone next door—they find the same interests; they find someone to go out and talk with.” People have fallen in love after meeting on the mesh.

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( Worried about the NSA snooping on your email? Maybe you need to start creating your own personal internet

THE internet is neither neutral nor private, in case you were in any doubt. The US National Security Agency can reportedly collect nearly everything a user does on the net, while internet service providers (ISPs) move traffic according to business agreements, rather than what is best for its customers. So some people have decided to take matters into their own hands, and are building their own net from scratch.

Across the US, from Maryland to Seattle, work is underway to construct user-owned wireless networks that will permit secure communication without surveillance or any centralised organisation. They are known as meshnets and ultimately, if their designers get their way, they will span the country.

Dan Ryan is one of the leaders of the Seattle Meshnet project, where sparse coverage already exists thanks to radio links set up by fellow hackers. Those links mean that instead of communicating through commercial internet connections, meshnetters can talk to each other through a channel that they themselves control.

Each node in the mesh, consisting of a radio transceiver and a computer, relays messages from other parts of the network. If the data can’t be passed by one route, the meshnet finds an alternative way through to its destination. Ryan says the plan is for the Seattle meshnet to extend its coverage by linking up two wireless nodes across Lake Union in downtown Seattle. And over the country at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, student Alexander Bauer is hoping to build a campus meshnet later this year. That will give his fellow students an alternative communications infrastructure to the internet.

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Image Credit: FabFi

In light of events that occured in the Middle East earlier this year, many worry that in the future, rogue governments could cut off access to the internet as a way to control political “threats.”

Douglas Rushkoff has championed the idea that the current corporate-controlled internet is far from the open commons we pretend it is.

“If we have a dream of how social media could restore peer-to-peercommerce, culture, and government, and if the current Internet is too tightly controlled to allow for it, why not build the kind of network and mechanisms to realize it?” Rushkoff asks.

Sounds daunting. And expensive, right? Wrong.

Funded primarily by the personal savings of group members and a grant from the National Science Foundation, residents of Jalalabad have built the FabFi network: an open-source system that uses common building materials and off-the-shelf electronics to transmit wireless ethernet signals across distances of up to several miles.

Jalalabad’s longest link is currently 2.41 miles, between the FabLab and the water tower at the public hospital in Jalalabad, transmitting with a real throughput of 11.5Mbps (compared to 22Mbps ideal-case for a standards compliant off-the-shelf 802.11g router transitting at a distance of only a few feet). The system works consistently through heavy rain, smog and a couple of good sized trees.

With FabFi, communities can build their own wireless networks to gain high-speed internet connectivity—thus enabling them to access online educational, medical, and other resources.

In FabLabs, technology brings people and ideas together. FabFi embraces this same principle. The public hospital, which houses the endpoint of FabFi Afghanistan’s longest link, has become a shared community resource, providing downlinks to a growing number of locations in the city center.

The shared infrastructure facilitates communication between FabFi users all over the city as they collaboratively grow and maintain the network. The FabFi user group is learning valuable skills that will soon allow them to generate revenue for themselves and the Lab by building, installing and maintaining FabFi links as part of a “FabFi Club” at the FabLab.

Fast Company reports that residents can build a FabFi node out of approximately $60 worth of everyday items such as boards, wires, plastic tubs, and cans that will serve a whole community at once. While it sounds like science fiction, FabFi could have important ramifications for entire swaths of the world (including rural America) that lack conventional broadband.

Although the Netherlands recently became the first country in the EU to pass a comprehensive Net Neutrality law, the United States and other Western countries are dragging their feet. But why wait?

If they create their own internet in a war torn country, what’s our excuse?


() The Obama administration is funding so-called “shadow” internet and cell phone networks, which allow activists to operate independently of government controls.

The “shadow” networks are portable kits that fit in suitcases, which could maintain ad-hoc computer networks useful to activists in places where internet is either inaccessible or being monitored.

One team of technologists in Washington, DC, has received a government grant to build a portable network.

Al Jazeera’s Monica Villamizar had the opportunity to meet them. She reports from the US capital.

Watching the latest news on the Egyptan revolution, hearing that the regime have shut down all the GSM infrastructure, a memory came to my mind: I read something about a smart thing called OpenBTS, a low cost, open source GSM base station. So i did a little research where the project evolved to, and found some really interesting things:

( Low cost open GSM base station for developing countries
Published: 24 Aug 2009

What did you do during your summer holidays? I was building my own GSM network!

I have been waiting almost 20 years to make this phone call!. Back in the 90’s when I started my engineering studies and discovered GNU/Linux, dreamed with a system that could do what I have right now on my table :). The first attempt was in 2001 when I was completing my PhD at KTH in Sweden. During those years a group of researchers in the Laboratory started to explore the possibility of replacing as much of the GSM architecture (BSC, MSC) for open source software. Although we had a commercial GSM container with plenty of noisy equipment, the project got stuck trying to find documentation for the GSM internal interfaces.

In December 2008, I attended a conference about Mobile Service in Developing Regions. I was very surprised not to see anyone addressing the need of opening the GSM infrastructure (hardware and software). Christmas period was a good time for new projects so I decided to get in touch with the openbts project and try to build their base station. Assembling all the necessary hardware took a bit of time! David Burguess from openbts has been really helpful with hardware purchases!.

Yes! It does work, and that first phone call felt like a different one :D. The base station uses a piece of hardware known as USRP. The USRP is a radio communication system where components that have typically been implemented in hardware are now implemented using software in a PC.

We are looking for sponsors for a deployment in a developing region! Interested? Drop us a line!

Posted by: Alberto Escudero-Pascual


( Open Source GSM Base Station [OpenBTS]

Closed Technologies have had the enough, the future is bound to be open. I can’t think of a stream where Open source has not contributed. In few of the relatively newer streams, like telecom, Open source is still catching up.

I had been into telecom for a long time now, and had often heard a complaint from Telecom startups and sometimes even giants about the cost to go to the market in rural/developing areas. A simple BTS (a.k.a Mobile antenna) could cost anywhere from thousands of dollars to millions (depending upon the capability 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G).

OpenBTS is one project that can change the game by bringing down costs.

Basically OpenBTS is a Base Transceiver System [BTS] with open source implementation of cellular interface for GSM using software that runs on open source hardware called USRP [Universal Software Radio Peripheral]. Using this, a cellphone interface can be achieved, just like any other GSM phone does.

On the network  back-end, it is an Asterisk server. The system doesn’t have much to do with signalling susbsytems,  at layer 3, GSM call control is very much like ISDN.  What they have implemented is GSM air interface in layer 1, GSM air interface LAPDm in layer 2, and then in layer 3 is very much like ISDN SIP gateway.

The two things they support, right now, are speech: Q.931-type call control, and text messaging, SMS.

All that’s exposed to the BTS is the air interface, because of this all the complexity in the network is pretty much abstract. As the lead developer claims, “It’s not that complicated”. he says “Once you understand the specification, it’s not that complicated.  We have had three people working on this project for about two years, well, for about eighteen months of actual programming.  We started coding this stuff in August of 2007.” and finished in December 2009

The  short-term goal of the project is to  find a sponsor for a pilot deployment in a rural area, in the developing world. They are trying to get one in Africa, in India, and in Central America.  Because it can be deployed and operated at much lower costs, you have the potential to push the cost of service down to $1 a month range.

The plan looks good, all we have to see is how fast the adoption is. The project is willing to learn from your experiences on the platform. Yes, at this time it’s pretty much 2G [with no packet or even circuit switched data] but it ain’t bad for a new idea, new open project.

On the other note, from what we have seen in the past – GSM is very much hackable and having a new Open source project that can replace GSM with a more secured System could make more sense.


(wikipedia) OpenBTS#Field tests

Live tests of OpenBTS have been conducted in the United States in Nevada and northern California. The necessary temporary radio licenses were applied for through Kestrel Signal Processing (KSP)—the original authors’ consulting organisation firm—and granted for a short period of time.

Burning Man

During the Burning Man festival in August 2008, a week-long live field test was run under special temporary authorization (STA) license WD9XKN.[5][6] Although this test had not been intended to be open to Burning Man attendees in general, a number of individuals in the vicinity succeeded in making real out-going calls after a mis-configured Asterisk PBX installation allowed test calls prefixed with an international code through.[7]

The Burning man test successfully connected about 120 phone calls to 95 different numbers in area codes over North America.[7]

A second, larger test was run using a 3-sector system at the 2009 Burning Man festival under the STA license WD9XSP, and a 2-sector 3-carrier system was run in 2010.


During 2010, an OpenBTS system was permanently installed on the island of Niue and became the first installation to be connected and tested with by telecommunication company. Niue is a very small (in terms of population) country with a population of about 1,700, too small to attract mobile telecommunications providers. The cost structure of OpenBTS suited Niue, which urgently required a mobile phone service but did not have the volume of potential customers to justify buying and supporting a conventional GSM basestation system.


August 2009, an OpenBTS network was built for the usage of the participants of this congress. The Staff of HAR2009 obtained a license from the Dutch regulatory authority. A few basestations were deployed and used by visitors and participants to call between eachother on the large terrain. [8]


Related links:

OpenBTS on Sourceforge, developers official hompage:

is a project aiming to create a Free Software, (A)GPL-licensed software implementations for the GSM/3GPP protocol stacks and elements.

Phones at Burning Man: Can you hear me now?